By Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala
DAR ES SALAAM, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Tanzanian President John Magufuli has suspended a senior rail official and ordered an investigation into possible irregularities in the awarding of a tender to build a standard gauge railway line, his office said on Tuesday.
Tanzania said in March it plans to spend $14.2 billion to construct a new standard gauge rail network in the next five years, to be financed with commercial loans as the country aims to become a regional transport hub.
The suspension of Benhadard Tito, the director general of the Reli Assets Holding Company (RAHCO), the state railway assets holding firm, will "pave way for a thorough investigation into gross violations of procurement procedures" for the construction of the rail line, Magufuli's office said.
Magufuli, who took office last month, has pledged to root out corruption and inefficiency in Tanzania and has already sacked several senior officials.
Tanzania, like its neighbour Kenya, wants to profit from its long coastline and upgrade existing rickety railways and roads to serve growing economies in the heart of Africa.
Magufuli also disbanded the board of directors of RAHCO and the state-run Tanzania Railways Limited (TRL), the operator of the country's railway, for failing to take action on irregularities in the railway tender, his office said.
Last week, the president dismissed the head of the government's anti-graft body for failing to tackle high-level corruption. He has also sacked the head of Tanzania's port authority and the chief tax collector as part of his anti-graft campaign.
The railway projects planned by the government include construction of a 2,561 km (1,536 miles) standard gauge railway connecting the port at the commercial capital of Dar es Salaam to Tanzania's land-locked neighbours, Rwanda and Burundi, at a cost of $7.6 billion.
Two additional lines, to cost $6.6 billion, would connect Dar es Salaam to the coal, iron ore and soda ash mining areas in the south and northern parts of the country.
The statement from the Tanzanian presidency did not give details on the irregularities in the railway tender process.
Gas finds in Tanzania as well as Oil discoveries in Kenya and Uganda, have turned East Africa into an exploration hotspot for oil firms, but transport infrastructure in those countries has suffered from decades of under-investment. (Editing by Edith Honan and Angus MacSwan)
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